When Homestake Mining, Co. announced in September 2000 that it would
close in legendary gold mine in Lead, nuclear physicists thought they'd
struck gold. The 125-year-old mine, site of the world's first experiments
in 1965 to prove that neutrinos existed, could be transformed into a vast
underground neutrino laboratory.
State and local leaders were enthusiastic about the plan, and Homestake,
which merged with Barrick Corp. in December 2001, was receptive. Two obstacles
remained: Was it the best possible site scientifically? And could environmental
liability issues be resolved? After reviewing the potential neutrino lab
locations, the National Science Foundations put Homestake at the top of
But the liability issue remained. Barrick said it wouldn't sell the mine
unless relieved of all liability for future environmental problems. No
one had been able to give Barrick that assurance and Barrick rejected
a watered down indemnification bill passed by Congress.
The issue is now with the state. Gov. Mike Rounds suggested the Legislature
must decide whether to use its taxing power to guarantee environmental
cleanup. Lawmakers seem uncomfortable with the idea. And Barrick is unsure
if the federal government will allow the state to underwrite liability.